Sunday, November 1, 2015

Ernest Hemingway - For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Review

Don't ask For Whom the Bell Tolls - you might not like the answer.




Waiting is the hardest part of any venture, especially during war time, and this story shows the mental stress and psychological strain that results. For Whom the Bell Tolls starts out slow and builds towards the bridge and its demolition, which is the goal of the main character.  He's a hired explosive expert working in a country that isn't his own. Attached to the bridge project in various ways are the people who live and fight in the mountains, the enigmatic girl saved from the train, the foreign sentries guarding the bridge, and the enemy troops coming closer every day.

The characters: Roberto (Robert Jordan), explosions expert; Maria, the female interest; Anselmo, the old guide; Pilar, the matriarch who controls much of the actions of the local group; and Pablo, the tired old leader who stirs the trouble pot to see what Roberto will do. Each has his own doubts, his wants, his fears and his past. Into this maelstrom of testosterone comes a love story, a relationship which might not have happened in any other time. Two people who have no personal connections to hold onto are thrown together in wartime, when no one knows what the future will bring. Roberto's cold heart and Maria's painful past find solace in the other's company. 

Hemingway's male perspective on the intimacy between Roberto and Maria is somewhat subtle considering today's standards, but anything more would intrude. Duty, honour, and dedication to one's cause is the thread that runs through the story. The setting is the Spanish Civil War, the story is about trying to protect one's home from outside forces and the resulting cost in human terms. One particular scene details how Pablo deals with the Fascists and anyone he deems to be sympathizers. 

This is also a story about how war affects those who must fight and those who must watch. It's a clear look at the good (comradeship, duty, honorable acts), the bad (excessive killing and torture) and the ugly (destruction of bridges, homes, etc) aspects of any war. I like Hemingway's style of writing and although it's not my favourite Hemingway novel, it is an important one, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. I recommend this book if you want to understand more about the Spanish Civil War and the painting that Picasso painted in 1937, Guernicaafter the bombing of the town of the same name. 

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E. Hemingway, by Lloyd Arnold cover photo, late 1939 *PD

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Are you a Hemingway fan? Have you read this novel? In general, do you read to learn more about a certain point in history, or do you prefer only to be entertained?

Please leave a comment to let me know you were here and I'll respond.  Thanks for stopping by! More reviews are on the horizon. . .

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Public Domain Image of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Lloyd Arnold for the first edition of "For Whom the Bell Tolls", at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939.

This image was only used on the 1940 edition. It was common (and allowed by the copyright office) to change things such as the preface, foreword, and dust jacket when renewing a book. If the old book cover was not renewed along with the book, it fell into the public domain. This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed. This also applies to Canada.
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30 comments:

  1. Hi D.G. I'm a huge Hemingway fan as you may remember. I think I've pretty much read/studied all his books. I didn't know much about that ugly Spanish Civil War until I read Hem. I've read other excellent accounts since then. I like your good, bad and the ugly take on this excellent book. Not my favourite Hemingway, either, but a great book to have in your library to refer to now and again.

    Thank you for an excellent review.

    Denise :-)

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    1. I have read most of his books, but not the ones about Africa. Maybe someday. I'm a big fan as well - something else we have in common. I found it interesting that Hemingway wrote about the Spanish Civil War and Picasso painted his feelings about it. Glad you liked the review!

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  2. Hemingway also fought in the Spanish Civil War ... as did Errol Flynn by odd chance. Errol played a part in the movie of Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES.

    A MOVABLE FEAST is one of my favorite Hemingway's novels. Like you, I would love to walk into a situation like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS just to meet Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

    Being entertained in a novel includes, for me, learning about a field or an era I know little of. Great review.

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    1. A Movable Feast is a favorite of mine,too. I've read The Sun Also Rises as well. Hemingway is just another thing we have in common. I'm not sure if I knew about Errol Flynn unless I read about it at your blog. . .I love to learn as I read, knowledge is wealth to me.

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  3. Hi DG - I haven't read "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - though the title has always intrigued and the phrase is used probably way too often with out knowing of the reference.

    Now I have a copy somewhere and must get it out and read it ... Guernica has always intrigued me - I'd love to see it one day.

    Michael Portillo, who was an MP, but turned tv presenter, political-historical journalist, and speaker - he does the Great Railway Journeys if anyone has seen them. He is is Spanish descent - his father escaped, while the rest of the family stayed in Spain during the Spanish Civil War ... he has a balanced perspective and understanding.

    Thanks DG - I must read this and the others mentioned. Cheers - Hilary

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    1. Guernica is a fave Picasso of mine, since it's based on his home country. I have seen The great Railway Journeys, I think. Will have to check on that. Hemingway can make almost anything interesting.

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  4. I can't say I'm a fan of his writings. I got through The Old Man & the Sea, but anything else I've read was in English classes. I have to admit that I find the so-called 'classics' extremely dry and boring, with the exception of Hawthorne. I can't even get through Dickens except A Christmas Carol.

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    1. The classics are harder to get through when we are used to today's books, JoJo. I have made it a goal to read a few of them between current books. A Moveable Feast is a good one to start with for Hemingway or one of his novels about Key West, or Fitzgerald might be more interesting - I've reviewed all of Fitzgerald's novels other than Gatsby, since most have read that one. Just a suggestion as Fitzgerald wrote about the 20s and Zelda who was very interesting.

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  5. I haven't read this one. Sounds like a good story with a good amount of history regarding the Spanish Civil War. I'm making a note to read it!

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    1. It starts off slow, but gets better as you go, as much of the history of the area is woven through the story. I think I like Pilar the best as she holds the group together, and is a strong figure to counter Roberto.

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  6. There are some good stories set in around the Spanish War.

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    1. I can believe that, Alex, as so many other countries seemed to be involved in it as well - factions inside the country, the Germans, the Russians and etc.

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  7. When I read historicals I like to learn something about the era and culture. Of course I like to be entertained with the story, but that is secondary. I read The Thorne Birds, and wasn't thrilled with the story itself, but enjoyed the setting and cultural aspects. That was a book that proved you don't have to travel to outer space to find an alien (as in not normally encountered) society.

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    1. I like to learn something as well, Donna, to broaden my knowledge. Sometimes we learn the roots of customs today by reading of its beginning in the past.

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  8. This is a wonderful review, I've seen the movie, but never read the book. Now I will, thank you!
    Just as soon as I finish NaNo - I think it will bring a welcome change.

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    1. Good luck with the NANO-ing, Yolanda! For Whom the Bell Tolls highlights the relationships, the trust that is or isn't there during war, and gives some details about the country and its people.

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  9. I haven't really read Hemingway, but I do enjoy historical fiction. I do not know much about the Spanish Civil War, either, so my interest is peaked.

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    1. I think I've reviewed quite a few of his books, Julie, but A Moveable Feast is a good place to start if you haven't read Hemingway before. It's about Hemingway in Paris as a young man.

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  10. If I did read this novel it would have been a long time ago during my college years. I was reading a lot of Hemingway back then, but I cannot specifically recall reading this one. My favorite of his novels is Farewell to Arms. I've read that one at least 2 or 3 times and saw 2 or 3 film versions.

    I should probably check out For Whom the Bell Tolls again (or for the first time). I'm sure I have a copy around here somewhere.

    Arlee Bird
    Wrote By Rote

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    1. I liked a Farewell to Arms, too, Lee. I've read quite a bit of Hemingway, inspired after visiting his house in Key West. I've not read many of his short stories, however.

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  11. I Am a Hemingway fan, and I read this novel a long while ago. I don't remember much of it other than the sense of holding back, of tremendous control in depiction that gave it added poignancy.
    Your post made me want to read it again.
    Sorry to leave a link, Blogger won't allow my wordpress comment:
    Daily (w)rite

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    1. A story that stays with you, and evokes despair yet also a bit of hope. Thanks for visiting.

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  12. I haven't read any Hemingway. I need to, though. I'm finding that I enjoy the classics a lot more now when I read them on my own time instead of being forced to read them as an inattentive kid in English class.

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    1. That's when I've read almost all the Hemingway novels, after visiting the Hemingway House in Key West, Fla. It's what we read by choice that counts. I would read A Moveable Feast or A Farewell to Arms first before this one. He is young in A Moveable Feast.

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  13. I haven't read any Hemingway but I've wanted to. I need to add this to my TBR list. I've also wanted to read A Moveable Feast and A Farewell to arms. I need to get reading!

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    1. Reading about Hemingway's early years makes him a bit more human, IMO. I like the books he wrote in Key West as well, since I visited the Hemingway House in that city.

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  14. D.G. Hudson - Rainforest Writing has been included in our A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2015/12/a-sunday-drive.html

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